Support the Arch?!

Spend enough time in the running industry and you will surely hear the phrase “support the arch”. For quite some time now, an emphasis has been put on so called “arch supports” and “stability shoes”. The creation of these devices is certainly not surprising as humans have an innate desire to control everything. Unfortunately, even an activity as simple and pure as running cannot escape.

Arches of FootHaving an orthotic or arch support in a shoe is going to hamper the natural movement of the foot and undermine the physics of the arch. An arch gains support from the pieces pushing on each other and dispersing the force down to the ground and foundation of the arch. If one were to put pressure underneath the arch, this would disrupt the pieces pushing on each other and potentially cause failure. It is hard to imagine that out of the box arch supports or even custom orthotics have been so expertly designed that it is not disturbing the natural support of the arch. Even if they have been designed perfectly, it is often redundant, expensive, and unnecessary.

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria d...

It was said by Leonardo da Vinci “the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” The foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles. If we look at other arches in the body, such as the back, we can see that there is no need for “support” there either. We would all look rather goofy walking around with hard plastic plates on our backs to support this engineering marvel. Arch supports restrict the natural movement of the foot and pronation (also natural). Pronation and semi collapse of the arch helps to disperse the forces experienced while running and the collapsing action is similar to that of a spring. Once collapsed, the spring is loaded, only to spring back as the runner prepares for take off into the next step.


Colosseum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If one were to pass the phrase “support the arch” along to an architect or engineer they would mostly likely cringe. The arch gains its strength through design, not extra structures that undermine the function of the arch. If we take a look at the 1900+ year old Colosseum, you will notice there are no “arch supports” supporting any of the arches in the building, they do just fine on their own and so called supports would put the structure in jeopardy.

So why are there “arch supports” in running shoes and orthotics?

  1. It is a big money maker. As mentioned before, humans are always looking for ways to control things and an arch support easily plays on this desire.
  2. There is some research to suggest that an arch support can be used temporarily to strengthen weakened feet. However, they should be done away with afterward and used only as a tool.
  3. Marketing. Running shoe companies are constantly looking for ways to differentiate their product and provide more “benefit” to the consumer.

All of this information is what I have found to be true from the experiences of those I deal with and my own. Feel free to contradict what I have said, point out errors, or agree. I hope to have use the comment section as an open forum. If you prefer, feel free to email me at

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1 reply
  1. kenroman
    kenroman says:

    I have been having some pain in my arches for almost a year now. I tried rolling them out with a lacrosse ball and “prehab”. This temporarily relieves the pain but when I wake up the next morning I wince in pain with the first step I take. It turns out that a weak achilles tendon can pull on your arch and make them weak. I started doing the appropriate stretches and exercises and the pain has been going away little by little each day.

    As for arch supports, I think they should only be used as a last resort. Chances are you can find the right shoe or do the right stretches/exercises to correct the problem.


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